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Violence breaks out at malls across America

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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When you think of mall fights during the holiday season, chances are that scenes of Black Friday stampedes and action figures doubling as weapons are among the first images that come to mind. As The Wall Street Journal’s Douglas Belkin and Paul Ziobro note, however, the day after Christmas proved even more violent in many malls across the nation. But rather than fighting over the latest toys and the greatest deals, young adults from Connecticut to Arizona were just fighting. Food courts turned into boxing rings and stores quickly closed up for fear that the fights would turn into riots. Given that it took nearly eighty police officers to break up such a fight in Aurora, Illinois, for example, those fears were not entirely unfounded.

For some, the seemingly random rise of violence brought back memories of the flash mobs, organized via social media, from a few years ago that were a cover for coordinated robberies in the surrounding area. While it doesn’t appear that the attacks from December 26th were perpetrated for a similar purpose, the possibility only heightened tensions for those looking on from the outside.

Fortunately, most of the injuries were relatively minor and, beyond a few arrests, it doesn’t seem like the fights will have any long-term impact on the participants or bystanders. Still, what does the prevalence of such violence on the day after we celebrated the birth of our Lord say about us as a nation? Mayor Chris Bollwage of Elizabeth, NJ, in speaking of the fights that took place in his city, argued that they were emblematic of a world where “nothing is getting solved through dialogue or conversation.” Rather, “issues around the world are being solved through violence.” Is he right?

History has shown that there are times where violence is necessary in order to resolve a conflict. After all, peace is only possible when desired by both sides. The problem is when violence is the first recourse rather than the last.

As Christians, Jesus has called us to be peacemakers, arguing that we demonstrate our identity as children of God when we strive to bring peace rather than strife to the world around us (Matthew 5:9). One of the primary ways we accomplish that purpose is by keeping conflict in perspective. Fights like the ones that plagued malls across the country earlier this week typically occur because participants allow a relatively minor affront to escalate unnecessarily. Conflict in other areas of our lives usually becomes a problem for the same reason.

Being a peacemaker means prayerfully finding a way to deescalate a situation without capitulating to the person in the wrong. It doesn’t mean peace at all costs, as such peace only invites further conflict in the future, but it also doesn’t mean addressing every minor slight as if it were a matter of vital importance. There is a middle ground between those extremes and that is where Christ calls us to live. And while that’s often easier said than done, just think about the opportunities to share the gospel and expand the kingdom that would come if we were to fill that role in a culture that often seems to crave conflict.

So the next time you find yourself in a situation that’s quickly getting out of hand, take a moment and ask God to help you bring peace where others only see room for conflict. The Lord has called and equipped you as a his child for just such a purpose. Act accordingly.